Friday, June 27, 2014

White privilege in Columbia, MO asserts black people can't drink

I have to be honest about a few things.  I’m new in town.  Although from Columbia, MO, I’ve been away rousing controversy in Durham, North Carolina for close to 30 years.  I don’t understand the political culture of COMO.  I’m learning.  Give me some time.

My naiveté related to the inner workings of local politics has kept me biting my lips tight before screaming loudly.  There are certain things crawling on my skin like a mosquito taking profuse bites. Yes, my last nerve has been unsettled, and I’m past wanting to put my shoe where the sun don’t shine.

So, it’s time to scream.

I attended the most recent city council meeting in hope of finding reason to believe it’s not just my imagination.  What I found left me even more perplexed than before I entered the plush room.  Given I’m here for a season, I need more than an impressive décor to give me reason to believe we’re moving in the direction of a loving, diverse community.

What I heard was a bunch of hyperbole about COMO being a nice place to live, with first class parks, a diverse community that celebrates arts, and it being the talk of the state.  Insert bull manure wherever you wish.    

Open your eyes people.

COMO isn’t the only community seduced by the rhetoric of inclusion.  All looks great when you’re standing on the throne of privilege, and control how diversity plays out.  COMO is one of the least diverse cities I have ever seen.  Diversity is not reflected in the way the news is dispersed, how power is shared, or in how public policy is administered. 

Don’t get it twisted sister, COMO is a community controlled by white privilege.

This prologue is essential in understanding my position on the plan to ban alcohol at Douglass Park.  When placed within the context of assumptions of power and privilege, it reflects how the voice of black people is minimized, controlled and relegated as no consequential.

It is assumed the complaints of blacks don’t matter in COMO.  Just give it time, and it will all go away.  It is understood that the black community’s lack of real political clout makes their voice insignificant when placed within the context of what white people think.  The response to black critique is handled by the opinion of white, liberal condescension.

You can hear the air of supremacy in the way affairs are managed.  The voice of arrogance rants, ‘they don’t know any better.’ We know what’s best for them, because we, well, we are white.

Saying that disturbs me because of the hard work I have done to undo racial tension.  My approach has been to seek common ground when confronted with tension.  The problem in COMO is the absence of common ground. Blacks are forced to accept the morsels handed them after an effort is made to be heard.  

So, with that out of the way, let me speak to the specifics related to the ban of alcohol at Douglass Park.  Ginny Chadwick, and all of her cohorts co-signing on the ban, is communicating a subtle message rooted in the assumption of white privilege.  It is a painful assertion that she, and those riding on the wagon, can’t hear because of the conventions that rule her thoughts and actions.

Black people can’t drink.  White people can, but not black people. Underage white people can, but grown blacks hanging out in a city park can’t.  Local clubs make it easy for white students to drink, but that’s different in the mind of those who are white, privileged, and completely unfamiliar with the nuances of black culture.

Her position makes that claim. Sadly, she fails to understand how paternalistic her crusade comes across.  It’s reminiscent of the goals of imperialism – to stampede into a territory, take control and teach the people how to live honorably. 

White people can drink.  Young white people can drink, but blacks can’t handle the consequences of their drinking.  When black people do it, the result is a public health issue. The white liberals have to rescue black people from destroying themselves before it is too late.

Insert your favorite super hero.

So, forgive me for speaking.  I’m sorry for divulging my feelings regarding COMO’s all-white city council and nearly all-white press.  Forgive me for chastising COMO for failing to take diversity seriously, and for making assumptions rooted in all of that privilege.  I haven’t been here long, but I have a long list of concerns that comes back to the same truth.

Black people aren’t welcome at the table.  We’re simply asked to show up to watch white people eat.


  1. Saying "forgive me" and "I'm sorry" is condescending, as well as dishonest.

    I completely agree with your premise, but are you really finding common ground, or are you talking down at others yourself?

  2. I don't think Mr. Kenney sounds condescending. He's saying "Hey everyone, try looking as the situation from a minorities perspective."

    Looking at this situation from a minority's perspective may be difficult, because, from that vantage point, the reflection isn't always pretty.

  3. Isn't alcohol disallowed at all public parks in Columbia?

    1. Alcohol is allowed in Columbia public parks. Ginny Chadwick wants to criminalize alcohol in only one park. The park is in a predominantly poor (non-white?) neighborhood.

  4. "The voice of arrogance rants, ‘they don’t know any better.’ We know what’s best for them, because we, well, we are white."

    This is the political voice that curdles my nerves more than any other -- and it doesn't just happen "because we are white," it happens "because we are (insert whatever angle the majority sees from - political, economic, religious, etc.)." Might makes right. Numbers create deafness. Whiteness is part of it; I get that, but it's not the only part.

    The societal disparity you cite is clear, and I applaud you for raising your voice, very reasonably I would add, about the larger issue at hand. I'm enough of a Pollyanna to believe that things can change, and I believe some important things have changed in Columbia, but this isn't really about alcohol at all. It's about a divided community, about one group trying to hide "untidy problems" without any attempt to truly work together as a larger community, or see anything from a different perspective than the one from which they've always seen. Living in the far Northeast as I now do, I can tell you that diversity and inclusivity are easy to claim and proclaim when the population is weirdly one-sided, but they will never be a reality until different groups (racial, political, religious, whatever) start listening to each other while standing on equal ground, looking eye-to-eye, with hearts softened and minds open. Keep writing, Carl. Keep talking. Please.

  5. I'm no native to Como either, and grew up in the Western parts of the US. I don't think there is anywhere that racial tensions, issues, separations and divides don't exist, but some places are better than others. Como ranks low on the inclusion scale from what I see. There is virtually no effort to celebrate the local black culture in Como like say a Cinco de Mayo superficially acknowledges latino culture, or St. Patrick's day invokes an Irish culture.

    But, and obviously much more seriously, where are the Black political leaders in Como? the Black Council members, Mayors, and managers? Why are all the local development leaders hunched over downtown as it touches the Campus, backs turned to the people of Douglas Park? Columbia offers nothing at all to this significant demographic in the way of political power (not voice but power), economic hope, and social justice. If I were a young black man in Columbia, I'd be looking to get out...but unfortunately, that's probably exactly what the local white privilege is hoping I would do.

  6. Hey Prof Don't be fooled. These regulations are not an attempt to tell black people what to do - they are the first step of gentrification. Key takeaway: " ....because the park is near her residence." Black people are not threatening white culture just property values. Remember the Ninth Ward......